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Caring for Our Caregivers: Nurturing Well-Being in Developmental Disabilities Support Professionals

Published on
May 23, 2024
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Individuals with disabilities need support, understanding, and adaptive technology to thrive. Learning management systems can help many develop the essential life skills they need through equitable education opportunities, but the health and success of people with developmental disabilities depend on the support of their care team. Though you may be called to enrich the lives of those who need your care, the task is not without challenges.

There are many challenges faced by caregivers and developmental disability support professionals. These include the tasks of rendering care, untended personal stress, lack of outside support, and a history of minimal community recognition. In the face of these challenges, self-care is a vital tool in maintaining your well-being as you provide vital support to those who need it most.

Our goal is to provide valuable strategies and practices to help you pursue self-care, prevent burnout, and achieve personal enrichment as you support your patients, clients, or loved ones who have developmental disabilities.

 Understanding the Challenges

23% of family caregivers report caregiving has affected their physical health negatively. Caregivers and professionals in disability services face unique challenges, including emotional exhaustion, compassion fatigue, and the impact of vicarious trauma. Much of the negative impact of caregiving, however, comes from never getting a break that would offer an opportunity to deal with the natural build-up of stress. Isolation, a common side-effect of caregiving a person with disabilities, can make matters worse when there are few support systems and connections with others outside the care team.

Understanding these realities is important to recognizing and addressing challenges, preventing burnout, and maintaining quality care. It's no surprise that burnout is common, but it is also not necessary. With the right strategies for self-care, setting boundaries, and building support systems, caregivers for people with developmental disabilities can rediscover their passion, energy, sense of self, and personal well-being.

Self-Care Strategies

Self-care is essential for everyone. No matter what your responsibilities are, you can only give your best work or be your healthiest self with self-care. Caregivers face especially unique challenges with demanding schedules and emotionally taxing situations. This is another reason why it's important to incorporate self-care into your daily routines and be consistent.

Care for Your Physical Health

Consider your health and maintain your body with love and consideration. Build a routine of healthy foods, regular exercise, and good sleep hygiene. Tend to your hair and skin, take time to feel good about yourself each day, and don't forget to give yourself extra care when you are sick.

Care for Your Mental Health

Make room for your mental and emotional health. Reassess your self-talk and speak to yourself like a supportive friend. Consider using apps, classes, and online videos to help you practice mindfulness. Freely acknowledge both positive and negative feelings.

Give yourself opportunities to unwind, relax, and release stress either alone or with people who uplift you. If you have ongoing negative thoughts or impulses, seek professional support and guidance to help you process them.

Seek Social Support and Hobbies

Develop activities, hobbies, and social routines outside of caregiving. Create space to be yourself and pursue your identity as an individual. Regularly talk with friends and family, maintain your relationships, and ask for support when you need it. You can also take time to enjoy your hobbies outside of work, like reading, artistic creation, listening to music, or practicing sports.

Build a Healthy Work-Life Balance with Regular Breaks

Maintain a healthy balance between working hours and breaks for personal time. Try to separate your care time from your self-care time. Allow yourself to take breaks throughout the day to unwind and be yourself. This can help you release stress and avoid feeling overwhelmed or burnt out. It's also important to have a backup care team so you can take a few days off on a routine basis.

Explore Self-Care Strategies to Discover What Works for You

Try a variety of different self-care strategies. Remember that each person is unique. What works for others might not be perfect for you, and vice versa. Discover what works best for your personality, preferences, and lifestyle. Keep trying new things until you discover what helps you relax, refreshes your sense of wellness, and/or energizes you for the tasks ahead. 

Setting Boundaries

Boundaries are extremely important for caregivers. Caregivers often give too much of themselves and risk burnout in the pursuit of being there for people all the time. Setting boundaries can help you provide the best possible care when you're on the clock and take good care of yourself during your protected off-time.

Being able to say 'no' can free up your mental, emotional, and physical resources to be a better caregiver, coworker, and friend. Most people will gladly accept your boundaries if you can explain and defend them empathically.

  • When to Say "No"some text
    • Identify when it's important to say "no." Determine your priorities and needs. Recognize what's important to defend and what is not.
  • Be Assertivesome text
    • Communicate your limits. This will help you not only take care of yourself but also maintain your quality of care for others. Being assertive will help you defend those essential boundaries when they matter most in the short term and the long term.
  • Be Patient with Yourself and Otherssome text
    • Give others time to adapt to your boundaries, and forgive yourself if you accidentally don't respect your own. It's always OK to try again.
  • When to Explain "Why"some text
    • Sometimes, a "why" is appropriate. Especially when talking to your patients with developmental disabilities, a good "why" explanation can help them accept and embrace your boundaries. You might even find them defending your boundaries once they understand.
  • Practice Boundariessome text
    • Boundaries are something you practice every day. You help yourself and others adapt to healthy boundaries by making them part of your routine and asserting boundaries regularly in a kind way.
  • Face Your Fearssome text
    • Though it can feel scary or vulnerable to assert your boundaries, this is necessary to prevent mental and physical exhaustion.
    • You can provide better care to others and take better care of yourself with the right boundaries in the right places.
  • Boundaries and Empathysome text
    • It is possible to assert your boundaries with empathy. This includes boundaries with clients, colleagues, supervisors, and even loved ones.

Tips for Saying "No"

  • Say "no" politely but firmly. 
  • Consider how you might say "no" to a food you're allergic to.some text
    • Don't give in, but be kind at the same time.
    • "Thank you, but I really can't." 
  • Explain why in empathic terms some text
    • "I need a quiet walk after lunch so I can be happy and friendly this afternoon."
  • Offer a trade some text
    • "Sundays off are important to me. But I'll be sure to bring your favorite game to play on Monday."
    • "If I can secure Sundays off, I'll make sure to always cover your Tuesday nights."
  • Propose an alternativesome text
    • "That doesn't work for me. But what if we do it this way?"

Seeking Support

Lastly, caregivers and developmental disability nurses benefit from a robust support system. It's important to get support from others, both in terms of sharing the caregiving work and feeling uplifted by others in your time.

Reach out for support not only from friends and family but from your peers as well. For encouragement and tips, seek advice from other caregivers who share your line of work.

Acknowledge the importance of support groups, counseling, and other resources - and make use of them. These resources are there for you and they can help you achieve the self-care and boundaries you need to thrive.

Encourage others to prioritize their mental health and to reach out for help when needed. Not only can you be a good friend and colleague, but you'll also hear the advice you give others, and will be more likely to take care of yourself as a result.

Rediscover Your Best Self through Self-Care as a Caregiver

Caregivers have big hearts and a lot of energy, but these qualities may wane without consistent care for oneself as well as the others being cared for. Self-care is the best way to refill your battery so you can be your best self all over again. Rediscover the big-hearted, energetic, passionate person who initially decided to become a caregiver for those with developmental disabilities. Don't let burnout catch up with you.

Tend to your health, take time for your mental health, and spend time with people who uplift you. Defend your boundaries and build a support network. Soon, you may find a reinvigorated love for yourself and your work, as you embrace the passionate person who began this journey.

If you are looking for an accessibility-forward, cloud-based learning management system to enrich the lives of your clients with developmental disabilities, YesLMS is delighted to become a part of your care network. We are a team of vocational rehabilitation experts creating a learning management system that is accessible to anyone, anywhere. Contact us for more caregiver resources and to learn more about our accessibility-equipped learning platform.

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